Inhaled Microplastics Found in Lung Tissue — Are Face Masks Contributing to the Problem?

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Inhaled Microplastics Found in Lung Tissue — Are Face Masks Contributing to the Problem?

By Colleen Huber, NMD

Researchers in the U.K. who sampled human lung tissue identified 39 kinds of microplastics in 11 of 13 tissue samples. The most commonly found was polypropylene, which also is the most common material used to make face masks.

A new U.K. study from Hull York Medical School sampled human lung tissue using micro-Fourier Transform Infrared (micro FTIR) spectroscopy.

Thirty-nine kinds of microplastics were identified in 11 of the 13 lung tissue samples of patients who were to undergo surgery.

The most commonly found microplastics were polypropylene (23%), polyethylene terephthalate (18%) and resin (15%). Tissue from male donors contained nearly six times the microplastics of tissue from female donors.

It had been thought that only particles smaller than 3 micrometers (µm) can enter the alveolar region of the lung. However, the particles seen in this study were up to 1,410 µm in length (1.4 mm).

What does this have to do with masks?

Possibly nothing. However, the disposable surgical masks that now decorate the world’s beaches, rivers and wildlands after having decorated billions of human faces happen to also be made of polystyrene and polyethylene compounds.

But the most common material in these is polypropylene, because of its ease of industrial handling. That was the most common microplastic found by UK researchers in lung tissue samples.

Epidemiologist Boris Borovoy and I were the first (that we were aware of) to warn in peer-reviewed research of this health hazard from inhaled microplastics and nano-plastics coming from disposable surgical masks.

We also discussed the friable nature of the particulate attached to surgical masks. Here are a few of the photos we took of surgical masks under a light microscope, with 40x to 100x magnification and without magnification.


Brand new surgical mask fibers, particulate and soiled appearance.



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